Saturday, December 07, 2002

The Dichotomies List

Zack's livejournal is linked from Molly's blog, but it doesn't hit home for either of us until tonight that it feels weird to know that we are reading / have read each other's blog/journal. The realization is that blogging is something unlike any other form of media previously extant, specifically in that it creates a totally new relationship between the self and the other, one simultaneously fictional or imaginary in its default perception and yet chillingly real in its public posture. In other words, we delude ourselves too easily into thinking that anonymity is effective, that those who know us will not after all recognize us when we sit at our screens and mask ourselves in the hum of the global village, that we are part of the invisible masses when we venture out into the digiverse. We exist in a pretend space, so we project a level of pretend-ness onto the people of that space, and forget the wetware behind the mask of the virtual persona.

This is true to some extent of much cyberspeak in its myriad forms, but the blog wouldn't be so shocking it there weren't something especially insidious, something unique in scope and specifics, about the tension between what blogging feels like...and what it can become. Intellectually, it seems intuitively obvious that if a random stranger can access and read your blog or livejournal, so can the next-door neighbor or friend or ex-girlfriend or even parent, assuming that they are online, or have a friend who might accidentally come across your brainspew and pass the word along. Psychologically, though, it is not obvious, but disquieting.

I think because Molly was the one who introduced me to blogging, I blog with the full knowledge that she might be reading, and all that might or might not entail does beg the question of whether I, too, am self-censoring. I gave the URL to some of my family at Thanksgiving, so I know they're there, too. [Hi, mom!] It is nevertheless odd to realize that Zack is probably reading the journal too; that the anonymous sites which show up on the counter stats might wear familiar faces when the lights go on. Here's the case I made to Zack.

There are some who would say that self-censorship either doesn't exist, or is a constant and necessary offshoot of not having diarrhea-mouth all the time. Selectivity -- deciding what to say, and when -- is, in this model, censorship.

But I agree that the notion that others who might actually be IN the journal are reading one's journal is...well, an interruption of the otherwise typical sense that the entire Internet exists in your own mind (c'mon, be honest -- you DID kind of think that, didn't you). And that it leads one to steer away from the more interesting and personal aspects of one's life, especially when it relates to other people who otherwise might-be-named. I don't know the best approach to handling this; some blogs/journals I've seen deal with it by using pseudonyms for everyone mentioned, while others just say to hell with it, and still others gradually drift away from the personal.

I don't know if the reaction we're sharing here is typical or even inevitable, or whether it is only true for some users, who might share some interesting sociological history or use a similar mental construct. But the fact that Zach and I are both emeshed in thinking about this now seems to suggest that it isn't such a rare phenomenon. I'm sure there's a more subtle and nuanced way to really understand this whole thing, and I'm interested in finding out what's going on here if only to satisfy my natural curiosity and maybe write a paper on it and go back to publishing scholarly articles every once in a while, like I did when I was in college and gradschool. But as a purely oversimplified way of starting to get at some of the ideas embedded in my thinking on this point:

(Probably False) Dichotomies On My Mind

  • Public vs. Private

  • Enjoying what is shared vs. Spying
  • Trying to be true to myself and wanting to be an open book about it vs. Having secrets and shames and wanting them to stay secret

  • Wanting to be jus' folks with everyone on a human level vs. The neccessity of social and professional roleplaying

  • Me from in here vs. Me through the eyes of others

  • Equity vs. Diversity (not really relevant, but nevertheless on my mind)

  • Surf vs. Turf (ditto)

posted by boyhowdy | 1:36 AM |

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